As WikiLeaks announces US officials have subpoenaed the Twitter details of Julian Assange, Mr Assange’s lawyer tells Channel 4 News he believes a subpoena has also been issued against Skype.
“Today, the existence of a secret US government grand jury espionage investigation into WikiLeaks was confirmed for the first time as a subpoena was brought into the public domain,” a WikiLeaks statement said.
The statement continued: “..the US State Department has requested the private messages, contact information, IP addresses and personal details of Julian Assange and three other individuals associated with WikiLeaks”.
One of the four individuals, Icelandic MP Birgitta Jonsdottir, tweeted last night that she had been informed by Twitter that the US Department of Justice had ordered the social networking organisation to hand over information “about all my tweets and more since November 1st 2009”.
The subpoena order was signed in the Eastern District of Virginia and served on Twitter by the Department of Justice division for that district. The Salon website reports that it was issued on 14 December, giving Twitter three days to respond and forbidding the company from notifying anyone of the existence of the order.
department of justice are requesting twitter to provide the info – i got 10 days to stop it via legal process before twitter hands it over. Tweet by Icelandic MP Birgitta Jonsdottir
On 5 January Theresa Buchanan, the judge who issued the order, directed that the order be unsealed, at Twitter’s request, in order to inform the users and give them 10 days to respond.
Since November 2010 WikiLeaks has published a series classified United States documents that have embarrassed the US government. They included cables that criticised British forces in Afghanistan, suggested that China was ready to contemplate reunification between North and South Korea, and revealed Prince Andrew had denounced the Serious Fraud Office.
Early in December Sweden issued an arrest warrant for Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, over rape allegations, which Mr Assange has strenuously denied. On 16 December Assange was granted bail pending extradition proceedings which are due to start on 11 January 2011.
Mark Stephens, Julian Assange’s lawyer, told Channel 4 News this was an attempt by the US Department of Justice to intimidate WikiLeaks supporters.
“If there had been a charge, if WikiLeaks had broken the law, you can bet your bottom dollar that during the last six months it (a charge) would have been preferred by now,” he said to Krishnan Guru-Murthy.
But Mr Stephens maintained it was “quite clear” that Mr Assange had not broken an American law. “They’re going round hoovering up information in the hope they can shake this electronic tree and some criminal charge will drop out.”
I understand that a subpoena has been served on Skype. Mark Stephens, Julian Assange’s lawyer
Julian Assange’s lawyer claimed the four people named in the subpoena were just “the tip of the iceberg”. The DOJ were not playing lawyers, he maintained – “They’re playing intimidators. They’re bullies.”
Mr Stephens also suggested that a supoena has also been served on Skype, the software application that allows users to make voice and video calls over the internet. “This is a really worrying development,” he said.
“It’s just mind-boggling, the amount of information the Americans are after he,” Mr Stephens concluded.
Birgitta Jonsdottir: Iceland's crusader for press freedom
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has worked with Icelandic MP Birgitta Jonsdottir to help turn Iceland into a haven for press freedom.
Assange advised the Icelandic government before it passed new laws in June 2010 to strengthen freedom of expression and protection for sources and whistleblowers.
Commenting on her country's legislation, Ms Jonsdottir said it would "deal with the fact that information doesn't have borders any more".
But in the wake of rape allegations against Mr Assange, which he has strenuously denied, she called on her "friend" to step aside as WikiLeaks figurehead until after the criminal investigation was over.
Ms Jonsdottir told The Daily Beast website: "I have strongly urged him to focus on the legalities that he's dealing with and let some other people carry the torch."